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When I was in Los Angeles recently, I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful evening of music at the home of some friends who invited the wonderful Zinnia to perform. Inspired by the writings of the Baha’i Faith, Zinnia’s powerful voice coupled with thought provoking lyrics and soul-stirring melodies immediately took a hold of everyone in the audience and she had us locked in our seats.
Needless to say, as soon as the performance was over, I immediately went up to her to find out more about her and her beautiful music, and she agreed to do an interview for Baha’i Blog, so here it is:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Zinnia, can you tell us a little about yourself and your musical background?
Hello! I was born in Nigeria, in the middle of nowhere basically! My Dad is Iranian and my Mom is Filipino and they were pioneers in a remote part of the country, Benue State, which is about 800km from the capital, Lagos. When I was 2, we had to leave Africa. We came to Canada and I grew up in Victoria, a small town, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
I’ve been playing the piano since I was three. I was a late bloomer with regards to singing. I didn’t get serious about it until I took a songwriting class in university. I took singing lessons for a few years, but nothing worked my voice as much as being in a band and gigging 3-4 times a week
Baha’i Blog: What was the main idea behind this album, and why was it important for you to make it?
The main idea behind this album is to uplift the listener and to use music as a platform to start elevated discussion, share the Writings, and teach the Baha’i Faith.
Baha’i Blog: What are most of your songs about and what do you hope listeners walk away with after they’ve heard the album or your music?
My songs for the most part are about life’s struggles. I hope the listener walks away uplifted, and in some cases, questioning things they’ve come to accept blindly.
Baha’i Blog: During your performance, you had mentioned that your husband and brother would tease you saying that all of your songs were quite heavy and dark. What’s the process of composing the songs like for you personally, and what does that look like?
Most often, I’ll have the melody before anything else. It’ll come through inspiration from a piano part I’m noodling around with or listening to other artists and being moved by their work. Sometimes, the song develops quickly, and the theme, based on the melody becomes clear right away. Other times, I could end up sitting with the melody for months before I have an idea of what the song should be about.
It’s true that my songs have been described as sad or moody because I do like to write in minor keys! Both my husband and brother tease me for having a lot of sad songs. My husband has started calling me “sad piano girl”. There is some truth to that nickname however I feel that even though the melody of a song may be sad, the message can be uplifting.
I do feel like we are living in a crazy world and as an artist I feel a responsibility to talk about it. The past year was filled with so many tragedies that I sometimes get scared we’re becoming numb to them. The earthquake in Nepal, the attacks in Paris, a shooting in San Bernadino (one county over from where we live) and the attacks in Belgium, it felt like these incidents all took place one after the other. If ever there was a time for us to hold hands and sing kumbaya, it’s now! We are in need of a spiritual revolution of the heart.
Baha’i Blog: You had performed a beautiful song about Abdu’l-Baha the night I met you. Can you tell me a little about that song?
Yes, the song is called “Are You Here”. I was raised in a Baha’i household and we had many pictures of Abdu’l-Baha in our home. Growing up, I always felt a special connection to Him. I had this little orange book, “Stories of Abdu’l-Baha” by Jacqueline Mehrabi, and in it were very short stories describing Abdu’l-Baha’s character; His love for humankind, His generosity, His kindness and His humility to name a few. I used to read these stories often as a child and even as I got older, whenever I was having a particularly rough time.
The last time I was on pilgrimage was about 10 years ago. I remember walking into the archives, looking up and seeing a beautiful, very large painting of Abdu’l-Baha. For the remainder of our pilgrimage, I kept thinking to myself, ‘He really is with us’. It was such a powerful feeling that after I got back home, I tried to imagine Abdu’l-Baha walking with me in my daily life and to imagine how might I act if He really were by my side. I like to remember Abdu’l-Baha whenever I play “Are You Here” as this song is about the person in our life who pushes us, and inspires us, to be the very best version of ourselves.
Baha’i Blog: You have a song that’s partly in Farsi, can you tell us about that?
I grew up hearing a lot about Iran and how wonderful it was before the revolution in 1978. I still have aunts and cousins there and it’s always made me a little sad that I’ll never get to meet them. As a result, I’ve become drawn to any art, literature, and entertainment, created in Iran or by Iranian people. If a new book by an Iranian author comes out, I’m the first to read it. If a new movie in Farsi is released, I’m the first one to line up to see it! When I wrote “Hameesheh”, it was in remembrance of all the wonderful people, places, and things, Iranian Baha’is were forced to leave behind. The lyrics in Farsi say, “don’t be sad, don’t cry, I will always be with you.” I think it’s important to remember in any situation, that there are good people everywhere. When I play it now, I like to remember our dear friends who are still there.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview Zinnia, and I look forward to hearing more of your music in the near future.
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